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Another chance at life: An appreciation for the fragility of our lives

When local resident and Mum of 8, Jacinta O’Donohue, was working out at a local gym in the early hours of Wednesday, 8 November 2023, little did she know that the trajectory of her life was about to take a dramatic turn.
 |  Emma Wright  |  ,
Another chance at life

Having already navigated the complexities of a challenging past, fate had another chapter in store for her. As she was doing kipping pull ups (a routine exercise that she did frequently with her legs in a band to assist her posture and momentum) it immediately turned into a life-altering moment.

As she jumped for the bar on the backwards swing, she fell and hit her head on a bench which was behind her. Unfortunately, she heard the ominous sound of her neck cracking. With her feet still in the band, her neck had taken on all the weight.

“I heard a snap and immediately thought I’d broken my neck,” recalls Jacinta.

Another gym member immediately called an ambulance which came and, on arrival, crew found her with the bench on top of her and made the decision to take her straight to the spinal unit at Middlemore Hospital via the Auckland Westpac Rescue Helicopter. On hearing this, Jacinta was relieved as she was in a severe amount of pain and knew how uncomfortable a journey by road would be. The Kopu-Hikuai Road wasn’t even an option then.

The Auckland Westpac Rescue Helicopter, with its ability to swiftly traverse the geographical challenges of the Coromandel, is a lifeline for those in need. It plays a vital role in bridging the gap between remote locations and life-saving medical care.

Jacinta does not remember the ambulance ride from the gym to the Whitianga hangar as she was in and out of consciousness and in severe pain. From the vehicle, they stretchered her into the hangar and onto the chopper. She immediately felt safe with the crew, Pilot Aaron Knight, Air Crew Officer/ Co-Pilot Vasya Makhinko and Critical Care Paramedics, Ross Aitken and Will Thompson.

Will Thompson recalls the seriousness of her injury and that it required a new piece of equipment called a vacuum mattress which is used specifically for potential spinal injuries, “That was used to stabilise Jacinta, it’s basically like giving her whole body a hug and stopping it from moving, but it’s also comfortable”, he says. He genuinely thought she had hurt her neck given the exercise that she had been doing.

Whilst in the confines of the vacuum mattress aboard the helicopter, Jacinta reflected on a newfound appreciation for the fragility of life. The helicopter not only transported her physically but lifted the weight of fear from her shoulders. Although in and out of consciousness, she remembers how the crew were super confident, competent, and upbeat throughout. Their professionalism and compassion were there in the midst of uncertainty.

“They made me feel at ease, and I felt like they’ve got me,” Jacinta says.

As Jacinta reflects on another chance at life, she realizes she is a tangible force that defies the odds in spite of her past.  Jacinta’s story is a narrative woven into the fabric of Coromandel’s spirit. It speaks of resilience in the face of adversity. She’s back at the gym.

Her prognosis is fantastic, and she didn’t break any bones but has some ligament damage to her neck and left hip as well as concussion. She is getting rehabilitation support for this and is currently still off work.

Jacinta says, “I’m completely and utterly grateful to the crew from the bottom of my heart for what they did for me that day as well as what they do every day.”

To support the work of the Auckland Westpac Rescue Helicopter and to be in to win a 1972 Plymouth ‘Cuda 340 AAR Tribute*, valued at over $150,000, visit www.classiccarlottery.org.nz *Terms and conditions apply.

Caption: Critical care paramedic Will Thompson, air crew officer Geoff Polglase, critical care paramedic Russell Clarke and pilot Rob Anderson. Will Thompson was the only one of this crew who was part of Jacinta’s rescue team.